Kurt Busch left Daytona Beach with three battered race cars and a day lost to the strange weekend weather, but he rolls on to Phoenix – with Phoenix Racing – this weekend with a sense of optimism.
For many, the Phoenix race is considered the “start” of the season after two long weeks at Daytona.
“Everybody goes to Daytona thinking about the big prize, which is the trophy,” Busch said. “You want to have the win at Daytona, and then you just deal with the points no matter where you end up. Phoenix is the first race of the year where you are into a regular sequence of Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday race.”
After two Daytona weeks in which the thrust of competition was mostly about the car, Phoenix opens the door on the “driver” part of the schedule.
Busch, a former winner at Phoenix, described the track as “more of a driver’s track, and you have to have a car built around a low center of gravity just because the track is so flat and there isn’t any banking to help the car turn. It’s a track that really has hardly anything to do with aerodynamics and has more to do with the mechanical setup of the car.”
Although the track has been reconfigured on the backstretch, with a wider turn, Busch said the first turn remains the most important.
“The toughest part, I would say, is not to overdrive turn one,” he said. “You have to get the car to really turn through the center of three and four the right way. Each corner has its own little bit of toughness to it, and it challenges you throughout the fuel run.
“That track fits my driving style with the flat, one-mile track layout and how tight the corners are. It’s a place where you have to slide the car just right to maintain a good pace around there. The track is a little unique with the old asphalt and the new asphalt.
“The other thing that separates Phoenix is how you have to balance the differences with turns one and two versus the differences in turns three and four. I have just always been able to understand that track and what the car needs to do to be fast.”
Practice for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 is scheduled Friday.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.